Gallstones Symptoms

November 12, 2012

Gallstones Symptoms

Gallstones are small, pebble-like deposits that are formed inside the gallbladder, a sac-like organ under the liver that is responsible for storing the bile juices secreted by the liver. The bile aids in the digestion of fats in the body.


Gall stones vary in size. They can be as small as a grain of sand, or as big as a golf ball. They are commonly made of cholesterol, although this is not related to the cholesterol levels in the body. Stones can also be made of bilirubin. Gallstones are more prevalent in women than in men. It is also common in Native Americans, Hispanics and in individuals over the age of 40 years. Conditions such as diabetes, liver cirrhosis, sickle cell anemia and rapid weight loss may also increase your risk of gallstones symptoms.


Most people with gallstones do not exhibit any symptoms. However, constant, sharp pain in the middle and upper part of the abdomen can occur when the gallstones block the cystic duct or the common bile duct. The pain may radiate to your back and shoulders as well. Pain in the ribs may appear similar to heartburn, and you may be unable to differentiate it from gallstones symptoms. The pain may reduce once the stones move into the first part of the small stones. Other gallstones symptoms include fever, jaundice, clay-colored stools, nausea and vomiting.


Since most patients do not exhibit any gallstones symptoms, it is difficult to diagnose the condition based on physical examination only. Your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests such as abdominal ultrasound, abdominal CT scan, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, gallbladder radionuclide scan, endoscopic ultrasound and magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography. Your doctor may also recommend blood tests to estimate bilirubin levels and pancreatic enzymes in your blood. Liver function tests can also help diagnose gallstones.


Patients who do not have any gallstones symptoms do not require any treatment. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is the most commonly used technique used to treat gallstones with minimal surgical cuts. Patients can go home on the same day as surgery, or the next morning. Open cholecystectomy is not performed commonly these days. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and sphincterotomy may be done to find or treat gallstones in the common bile duct.

Medications such as chenodeoxycholic acids (CDCA) or ursodeoxycholic acid can be given to dissolve cholesterol gallstones. They are available as pills but may take almost 2 years or longer to produce the desired effects.


  • Gallstones Symptoms in Women
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